Blues Bytes

May 2003

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What's New

Tommy Castro - GratitudeGratitude, the seventh Tommy Castro Band CD, and the first on Castro’s new Heart & Soul Records, is aptly named. The San Francisco-based guitar player pays tribute to his influences with 12 songs originally performed by Sam & Dave, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Chuck Berry, John Lee Hooker, James Brown, Albert King, Wilson Pickett, Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy. Castro and his bandmates are up to the task of covering such blues and R&B giants. In fact, one of the most impressive things of this session is that not only do they do such a great job on the songs, but that they do it without ever sounding like they’re just copying the originals. These are their versions, but at the same time, the feel, the swing, the texture of the original artists are apparent. In addition to Castro’s hot guitar chops on all the tracks, the horns of Keith Crossan (sax), Tom Poole (trumpet) and Michael Peliquin (second tenor) nail the soul sound on “I Take What I Want,” “Come Back Baby” and “Lovey Dovey.” Randy McDonald handles bass with Billy Lee Lewis on drums. And a few guests add to the mix, like Sista Monica Parker, who sings the Carla Thomas part on “Lovey Dovey. Curtis Salgado who blows harp on the great version of Chuck Berry’s “Tulane” and contributes vocals on that cut plus “I Take What I Want” and “I Found a Love.” And rounding off the effort is John Turk on piano and organ who really shows his stuff on Howlin’ Wolf’s “44,” and “I Found a Love,” originally done by The Falcons with Wilson Pickett. All the songs are performed with lots of love, enthusiasm and talent --- a winning combination.

---Mark K. Miller

Nande & the Big DifferenceHere's a CD of jump blues from a bunch of guys from Denmark who call themselves Nande & The Big Difference (Peder Nande, Carsten Larsson, Morten Burup & Martin Bode). Jump Blues (which in turn spawned rock 'n roll) is big in Scandinavia, and popular throughout Europe, and this band have mastered it, borne out by the fact that they are supporting R.J.Mischo on his forthcoming Scandinavian tour. Mischo comments on this CD ... "Flaming harmonica, smoking guitar, and a red-hot rhythm section. If you love jump blues, you are holding a hot one!" ... and I can't disagree with that. This is the band's debut CD (they played their first live gig in December 2000 in Copenhagen), and it's an excellent starting point with a blend of West-Coast jump blues and a few other styles to spice things up. Of the 15 tracks on this CD, seven are originals and are very good. There's a good mix of different tempos too. The cover versions range from Leiber & Stoller numbers, through Willie Dixon, to Otis Rush and R.J.Mischo, so there's good range of material to listen to, especially as it's mixed with a liberal portion of originals. If you're a jump blues fan, have a listen to Willie Dixon's "Good Understanding," the Leiber & Stoller number "One Bad Stud," or the band's own "Duckin' & Divin' " --- these are tracks that will have you jiving and bopping! The highlight for me has to be the Pluma Davis written "Okie Dokie Stomp," and I can honestly say that I've only heard one better version than this, and that was by Clarence Gatemouth Brown. Praise, indeed!

--- Terry Clear

While using as much reverb as Hendrix ever did and a jam band ease of Faces, The Black Keys play a minimalist style of bluesy-rock. The duo (Dan Aurebach, vocals and guitar, and Patrick Carney, drums and production) is another band rewriting the rules of blues for the 21st century. Like the North Mississippi All-Stars, 20 Miles or the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, The Black Keys draw from the influences of Junior Kimbrough, Fred McDowell and R.L. Burnside to create a gritty and unapologetically abrasive sound. Thick Freakness, the band’s debut for Fat Possum, sounds like a live recording minus the audience. With no bass player, the duo relies on volume, heavy drum beats and energy. Dan is an accomplished guitarist whose style ranges from Eric Clapton to Steve Jones. He successfully borrows licks from Cream on the title track and uses George Harrison’s “Taxman” distortion on “Hard Row.” Covers of Junior Kimbrough's "Everywhere I Go" and Richard Berry's "Have Love Will Travel" are included on the 38 minutes of hard drivin’ material. With the White Stripes and The Hives phenomena taking ahold of the music world as Grunge did in the early '90s, The Black Keys are without question another band to keep an eye on.
See below for another review of this CD.

Kenny BrownHailing from North Mississippi, Kenny Brown has played most of the Delta Blues Festivals and has become a prominent fixture with blues fans in his hometown of Selma Alabama. Over the years he has worked with blues legends R.L. Burnside, Mojo Buford, Joe Callicott, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Junior Kimbrough, and many others. On Brown’s first release, Goin Back To Mississippi, in 1997, the group’s line-up was Kenny on guitar, Terrence "T-Money" Bishop on bass, J. Farrell Bonds on the drums, and Dale Beavers guitar and vocals. The band now consists of Kenny on guitar and vocals, Cedric Burnside on drums (R.L. Burnside's grandson), and Takeeshi Imura on bass. For their new recording, Stingray, the band's debut for Fat Possum, Brown brings in a congregation of local musicians for a more complete sound. While Brown has always had affection for late 1960s Rolling Stones, it has never been quite as apparent until now. The songs on this disc would have easily fit on Exile On Main Street, as Brown vacillates between simple acoustic blues to hard driving Rock & Roll. In fact, Kenny Brown’s voice sounds so similar to Jagger’s, if you didn’t know any better, you would swear these were lost Stones recordings. However, this is a blues record through and through, as three songs come from longtime friend R.L. Burnside ("Miss Maybelle," the frantic shuffle "Goin' Down South," and "Shake 'Em on Down"), while most of the rest are traditional, including the roaring "France Chance" and "Cocaine Bill." Despite the Jagger/Richards comparison, Kenny Brown successfully captures the essence of Delta inspired blues in many places. With a nice balance of electric and acoustic slide work, Stingray is a comprehensive piece of work.

--- Tony Engelhart

In a perfect world, an artist as talented as the late Larry Davis would have been famous. Despite being one of the most talented blues artists of the past 40 years, possessing an incredibly soulful voice and a stinging guitar attack, Davis never really got his due. Though he released some wonderful records (including the original version of “Texas Flood“), he was unable to stay with the same label or release records on a consistent basis, and because of that he was never able to keep any momentum going. He passed away in the mid '90s from lung cancer, just after releasing an excellent album for Bullseye Blues. Over the last few years, much of his work has been reissued (particularly his mid '80s Pulsar release, now on Evidence, and his great Rooster Blues album), and lots of listeners got to find out what they missed the first time around. One section of his catalog that has not been given much attention is his work in the late '60s for Kent/Modern Records (on the Virgo label). In the past, selected tracks have been found on various anthologies, notably on the UK label Ace. The Japanese label P-Vine has taken care of this problem by reissuing 15 tracks from this era. The album, Sweet Little Angel, finds Davis at his best. His talents will often remind you of B.B. King, but Davis was very much his own man. He does seven covers of King songs, but they are not mere retreads. His sweet vocals lift them high above the norm, especially on the title track and on the fine cover of “As The Years Go Passing By.“ Of the 15 tracks here (produced by either Oliver Sain or Maxwell Davis), six have been previously unissued and they are gems, including an early version of Davis’ “Letter To My Darling,” King’s “Three O’clock Blues” and “Rock Me Baby,“ and three more tasty original compositions by Davis. As a fan, I was glad to finally get my hands on these recordings and I highly recommend these, as well as his other recordings, to everybody.

Though many blues fans may not have ever heard of him, in the1960s, Chicago singer Ricky Allen's popularity once rivaled only by Muddy Waters. He was able to record during much of the 1960s, a time when other blues artists were struggling with keeping up with public demands. He was able to capture several local and regional hits, including the oft-covered "Cut You A-Loose" and "I Can't Stand No Signifying." Eventually, fed up with the lifestyle and frustrated with the music business, Allen retired from music in the mid '70s, starting his own dry cleaning business and later a limousine service. In the early '90s, he attempted a comeback which stalled. In the late '90s, he was convinced to come out of retirement and, in 2001, appeared at the Monsteras Bluesfestival, the biggest festival of its kind in Sweden. That country’s Jefferson blues magazine, through its record label, Jefferson, captured his appearance at the festival on Ricky Allen: Live. On this set, Allen reprises several of his old hits, including "Cut You A-Loose," "Help Me Mama," "You Were My Teacher," "I Can't Stand No Signifying," and "Ouch!," and his silky smooth voice is in great shape. Obviously he has taken care of himself over the years. There are also covers of "Everyday I Have The Blues," "Little By Little," and "Stormy Monday." The band provides adequate support, but the production could have been a little better, as Allen's vocals are sometimes too far down in the mix. This minor quibble aside, it's great to have Ricky Allen recording again, and brings up two questions --- why doesn't someone reissue his early sides and when can we get a new recording? For information on the CD (and a brief biography of Allen by Earl Hooker biographer Sebastian Danchin, which is listed in the Archives section), go to You won't be disappointed.

The Delta JukesFans of the late, lamented Jelly Roll Kings will want to get their hands on Working For The Blues, the latest release from The Delta Jukes, on Black Magic Records. The Jukes, consisting of longtime Jelly Roll King Sam Carr on drums, John Weston on harmonica, and Dave Riley on guitar, bring back that good old Delta Blues sound that the Jelly Roll Kings did so well. Weston, who is one of the most original blues songwriters to emerge in recent years, and Riley, a promising newcomer, penned nine of the 12 tracks on the disc and alternate vocals throughout. Both acquit themselves very well, and Riley's growling vocals are a fine complement to Weston's more relaxed delivery. Delta legend Carr contributes a rocking instrumental, "Carr Hop," and his steadying influence behind the drum kit propels this disc to a higher level. The man behind the Jukes, who also was a guiding light in the Jelly Roll Kings, is Fred James, who produced the album, contributed bass, rhythm guitar, electric piano, and even wrote the liner notes. Though James and Carr are content to stay in the background, they are the driving forces on this album. What you see is what you get here, just your basic juke joint Delta blues, a sound which is becoming rarer and rarer these days. Catch it while you still have a chance.

Dialtone Records, which first came to notice a couple of years ago with their release of the late Ervin Charles’ final CD, has struck it rich again with two recent releases, as they continue to focus on under-recorded talent from the Austin, TX area. The first release is by a local band, Matthew Robinson & the Texas Blues Band. Robinson has been playing in the area for almost 40 years, playing in the Mustangs, which opened for many national acts that played in town during the '60s. In the '70s, he played in the band James Polk and the Brothers, which also included a younger songstress named Angela Strehli. Robinson’s approach is blues mixed with a healthy dose of R&B. The song selection would indicate that with the inclusion of covers like Martin Sease’s ribald “I’m Mr. Jody” and George Jackson’s “E.T.” However, there are also straight blues covers of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Don’t Start Me To Talking,” the Wolf’s “I Asked For Water,” and the Albert Collins classic, “Too Many Dirty Dishes.” Robinson has a nice old-school touch on the guitar and has a seasoned, raspy voice that is a good fit for the bluesier material, but can also handle the more R&B-styled work as well. Big-voiced singer Glenda Sue Hargis steps in for two songs, including her composition, “Bumblebee,” which sounds like it could have come out of the Etta James catalog. The band, composed of Austin area vets, provides excellent support.

The second Dialtone release is a collection of songs from more Austin-based musicians, grouped together as The Texas East Side Kings. These musicians have been part of the Austin scene for decades and, for some, this is their first time to shine on their own on disc. The Kings are made up of guitarists George Underwood and Clarence Pierce, bassist James Kuykendall, drummer Willie Sampson, and Donald “Duck” Jennings and Ephraim Owens on trumpets. Jennings, Underwood, Pierce, Kuykendall and Sampson split the vocal chores and all acquit themselves pretty well, particularly Pierce’s tortured take on “You Hurt Me” and Sampson’s cover of “Cut You Loose.” Underwood’s vocals have a strong Delta influence to them, and Jennings’ lone vocal track, a tasty remake of “Stranded,” makes you wish he had sung a couple more. The songs range from some decent covers (only “Cut You Loose” will be overly familiar to most) to some pretty fine originals (notably Underwood’s “Just Because My Beard Is White” and Sampson’s “Been A Long Long Time”). It certainly sounds like the blues scene in Austin is in good hands with these guys. If you’re hungry for some good old Texas blues, just head on over to the Dialtone homepage ( and check out these two excellent releases.

--- Graham Clarke

Lucky PetersonI’m not sure if it is entirely appropriate to label Lucky Peterson’s latest album, Black Midnight Sun (on the Dreyfus Jazz Records label, a small French imprint that might be hard to locate), as a blues record. It seems to me that the soul and funk elements are just as strong, or stronger, than the blues. With one or two exceptions, though, it is a thoroughly enjoyable outing. Produced by avant-rock and experimental jazz legend Bill Laswell (who is also a monster bass player, playing here ultra-deep, sometimes wah-wah bass, which gives the sound a little something extra), the disc opens with a blues-rock with lengthy guitar solos, “Herbert Harper’s Free Press News,” culled from the Electric Mud album. The next track, Mick Jagger’s “Lucky in Love,” is given a soul-blues treatment, while Syl Johnson’s soul classic, “Is it Because I’m Black,” is oozing with churchy keyboard textures. (Peterson plays all guitar and keyboard parts on the CD). With the Johnnie Taylor hit, “Jody’s Got your Girl and Gone,” coming next, it’s four great tracks in a row, but very little blues. The most “out-there” track of the CD, with wah-wah bass and some remarkably spooky flute playing from jazzman Henry Threadgill, is next --- a surprising version of “Smokestack Lightning,” of all things. The second half of the disc tends to fade a little more in the background, with the worst offender being a lame and soporific reading of Sly & the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again),” here bizarrely retitled “Thank You for Talkin’ to Me Africa,” though the lyrics haven’t been changed. Given that the drummer on the record is ex-Funkadelic Jerome “Bigfoot” Brailey, it is even more unforgivable that Sly’s party anthem is so ruined. The James Brown cover, “Talkin’ Loud and Saying Nothing,” is not a grand success either, but at least it has a super bouncy bass line and neat chicken picking from Peterson. But even with this utter failure, I think this CD, though it leans more towards funk and soul than blues, is worth searching out. Peterson shines on guitar (his liquid tone on “She’s a Burglar” is amazing), is just as good, though more in the background, on keyboards, and his singing, especially on the soul numbers, is very strong. The CD also merits a few extra points for its song selection --- to make both an Electric Mud track and a song from Mick Jagger’s first solo album work is by itself worthy of consideration. Although there are only two originals, one of them, the blues-gospel “Truly your Friend,” is strong and heartfelt, one of the best cuts on the CD. In a word, not a masterpiece. But Peterson is willing to try many different things, most of which work, and to walk away from standard issue contemporary blues.

The Black KeysI won’t try to sell you Fat Possum’s latest signed band, The Black Keys, as a blues band. They’re not, nor are they pretending to be. In fact, if my guess is correct, almost every traditional blues artist will downright hate them, and I suspect there is a large majority of Blues Bytes readers (and definitely of Living Blues magazine’s) that will too. You see, The Black Keys, along with a smattering of other bands, the best known of which being The White Stripes and, to a lesser extent, The Immortal Lee County Killers, are part of a new genre of rock bands, playing in a style that is currently enjoying a surge in popularity, called “Garage blues,” or sometimes “Punk blues.” Again, to a blues fan, this isn’t blues. But to many younger rock fans, it is. And, like what happened with the first wave of British blues and R&B did in the '60s, many of these young fans will discover “real” blues later, thanks to these “offensive” (?), punk blues discs. (But don’t forget that many of those '60s British reinterpretations of the blues are nowadays viewed fondly by hardcore blues fans, so it might be a good thing to check out this new garage blues fad, which, unfortunately, no blues publication seems to have noticed). So what of The Black Keys’ latest, Thick Freakness? If you like high-volume revved-up blues, the sort of which R.L. Burnside can come up with when playing in a live venue he really likes, then this should make you happy. For a two-man band (guitarist-singer and lyrics-writer Dan Auerbach, drummer-producer Patrick Carney), The Black Keys sure make a lot of noise. Carney is obviously trying to pound his drums into submission, while Auerbach’s guitar sound, full of fuzz and distortion, is reminiscent of '60s cult band The Sonics. Auerbach’s voice, part mumbled, part screamed, is also distorted, sounding like other Fat Possum artists, such as Junior Kimbrough, I guess, whose “Everywhere I Go” is covered here. The other cover is a Richard Berry song, best known for penning the immortal “Louie, Louie." The real surprise, upon hearing how these youngsters (both in their 20s) obviously have a grasp on repetitive, drone-blues, is to learn that they’re from Akron, Ohio, not some burgh in the North Mississippi hill country. In a word, this is a record you might consider buying for your teenage son. Expect to borrow it a few times, and don’t be surprised if your son wants to delve a little deeper into your blues collection later on.

It’s hard to form an opinion based solely on the quality of the music on Miami Sound, a various artists compilation from London-based Soul Jazz Records. This is marketed to the rare groove fans; these people are looking for quality soul, jazz and funk tracks that never made it big on a national or regional basis. In fact, it seems sometimes, the more obscure, the better. In the case of this compilation, said obscurities were recorded and released in the Miami area, most of them on one of the many labels owned by Henry Stone (Alston, CAT, Glades, T.K., etc.), in the first half of the '70s. And it is indeed extremely rewarding to discover a band such as All The People, whose “Cramp Your Style,” the leadoff track here, was their only release. That song came out, according to the anonymously written liner notes, on a tiny Florida label, Blue Candle. This record is so rare that it’s not even mentioned in Bob McGrath’s two-volume bible, The R&B Indies (highly recommended). It’s the opposite of slick, with under-recorded vocals, but it’s excellent soul-funk, just as entertaining as Archie Bell & The Drells’ “Tighten Up.” Similarly, the obscure Helene Smith proves to be an equal of Aretha on “You Got to Be a Man,” and the three cuts from James Knight and The Butlers show a psychedelic side of soul music that is fascinating. Personally, I don’t really go for George McCrae’s proto-disco “I Get Lifted,” some of the smoother ballads are not really my cup of tea, and I find some of the lyrics to be a little weak. But on the whole, the sheer joy of discovering all these utterly forgotten tracks makes for a more-than-pleasant listening experience. Just don’t expect any hits.

Gotta Serve Somebody – The Gospel Songs of Bob Dylan (Columbia) is not just another tribute album, a third one at least, in recent years, honoring the songwriting of Bob Dylan. Before 2001’s A Nod to Bob (Red House), there was Tangled Up in Blues (House of Blues) in 1999. As the subtitle makes clear, the songs covered here are faith-affirming “gospel” songs of Dylan, the best known of which (the title track, sung here by gospel diva Shirley Caesar) was already covered four years ago by Mavis Staples, who is returning this time around, in a duet with Dylan himself on the closing “Gonna Change my Way of Thinking.” Aside from Ms. Caesar and Staples, the best-known (to a non-specialist) artists tackling the Dylan canon on this new disk are Aaron Neville, the Mighty Clouds of Joy and the Fairfield Four (who, with their short a cappella version of “Are You Ready,” end up stealing the show). Most of the tracks are in the “contemporary gospel” mold, with somewhat bland accompaniment behind forceful, even masterful voices. The Dylan and Staples duet is somewhat of an exception, with the music having a harder rock edge, but with Dylan’s voice being on the painful side of coarse. Among the group tracks, “Pressing On,” from the Chicago Mass Choir, is exceptional, going from a barely audible whisper to a thunderous sonic assault. Fans of Dylan and those who wish to get acquainted with today’s gospel stars will certainly consider this an essential release.

Even though Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly, died more than 50 years ago, in 1949, it seems every year there is a new CD of his songs. Collectors and those interested in the early exchanges between black musicians and white audiences will want to get their hands on the latest reissue, titled Absolutely the Best, Volume 2 – In Concert (on Fuel 2000, which released the first volume of Absolutely the Best in 2000), which is to my knowledge the only complete recordings of a Leadbelly concert. Said concert was given at the University of Texas in Austin on June 15, 1949, less than six months before the songster’s demise. For such an old live recording, the sound quality is surprisingly good (it helped, with one-microphone settings, as was the norm for the day, that Leadbelly played a 12-string guitar, which was louder than a 6-string acoustic, and that he had such a booming voice). The material is standard fare for the singer --- a few blues, a few spirituals, a few hollers and work songs, a couple of train songs (including an unusually brief version of “John Henry”), etc. Every song is introduced in detail to the public, who is invited to sing along in many instances. The audience response is excellent, even on a recent song Leadbelly had written in France, entirely in French! In his spoken intros, Leadbelly is always charming and often quite funny, and to hear how the audiences of his day responded to his music is a real revelation, so that even if you own many of his records, even if you’re familiar with his versions of the songs performed here, you will learn a lot about the man and his demeanor in public. As a bonus, the final two songs of the evening, both spirituals, were performed a cappella as duets with his wife Martha, the only time she committed her voice to wax. The fact that such an obviously gifted entertainer was about to be struck down by Lou Gehrig’s disease when he was recorded for this concert makes this release all the more poignant.

Serious music fans probably won’t have anything to do with Fats Domino’s latest live release, appropriately titled Live! Recorded at the 2001 Jazz & Heritage Festival in Domino’s native New Orleans, it seems to be the initial release of a new label, Shout! Entertainment, as well as the first of a series dubbed The Legends of New Orleans. As expected, there are no surprises here --- Fats does Fats, exactly like he’s always done. Since all the songs are played the way they came out on record in the '50s and early '60s, with minimal audience interaction and perfunctory solos done by the book, this record won’t add anything to the original recordings. In fact, if you have Domino’s Live in Montreux record from 1973, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything substantially different. But for casual fans looking for a cheap intro (and for the pleasure of hearing Herb Hardesty on sax, still with the Fat Man, 54 years after their first collaboration!), this oldies set will bring a few smiles.

--- Benoît Brière

Chuck StrongIt was great news to hear that veteran singer Chuck Strong had signed with Malaco's Waldoxy label for his latest release, 3 - N - A Bed. Strong has been recording for smaller labels for many years and has gathered a large following in the southern soul community. This label change should allow him to reach a larger audience than in the past. Also on hand for this release was the veteran producer and songwriter Richard Cason, who has contributed his talents to many Malaco releases. The players are in place, so on with the show. The opening track, "3-N-A-Bed,"carries with it a theme found in so many soul/blues and country songs. It's theme and lyrics brings to mind Willie Clayton's and Frank-O-Johnson's well known "Three People (Sleeping In My Bed)," a tune that is the epitome of cheating songs. The second track, "Southern Girl," another Cason original, contains these classic lines: "I want a down home southern girl with a butt so big, her dress don't fit. A southern girl to put some sugar on my eggs and grits." That just says it all. The third song in row by Cason, "You're All The Woman I Need," is a slow ballad that shows off Strong's sweet soul delivery. I was reminded of Richard "Dimples" Fields when I first heard this track. It has a sophistication that pervaded so many of Fields' recordings. "You Made a Change In Me" shows off Strong's songwriting ability. It's a classy upbeat song with a great hook. "I Was Checking Out, She Was Checking In" brings to mind Don Covay's classic tune with a very similar story line. The famous Luther Ingram war horse, "If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don't Want To Be Right)," recorded by everyone from Bobby Bland to Millie Jackson, gets a successful rendition from Strong here, too. A great song for the ages. (I still think the original version by Ingram will never be topped, but Millie Jackson's version with her long spoken intro is right up there. If you never heard her version, check it out. You will be completely overwhelmed). The CD ends with William Bell's "I Forgot To Be Your Lover," one of southern soul's great anthems, and a killer track to end this fine CD. There are really no weak tracks on this solid outing. If I had any complaint at all, it was the reliance on programmed drums and synthesizers. All real musicians would have elevated this release to the next level and onto many best of the year lists. Four deep bows to Chuck Strong and the Malaco/Waldoxy group for a fine outing.

Carla Thomas is one of the artists most directly responsible for the early success of Stax Records. Even before it was known as Stax, when the name on the door was "Satellite," this young woman made her talent felt and really helped put the label on the map and on the charts. She is the daughter of the late, great Rufus Thomas, to whom this album is dedicated. Live In Memphis (Memphis International Records), billed to Carla Thomas And Friends, will have much interest to those southern soul devotees since the "friends" on this album include none other than Dan Penn on vocals on two of the tracks and Spooner Oldham on piano and vocals. Live In Memphis is basically Carla Thomas doing a few of her hits along with other Stax and Atlantic early soul classics. Songs such as "Lovey Dovey," "B-A-B-Y," "Gee Whiz" and "Lean On Me" will bring a smile to most everyone's face. A couple of fine duets with William Brown, most notably "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby," the Sam & Dave classic, and "These Arms Of Mine," a tune originally recorded by Otis Redding, steal the show. A fine release that will take it's place alongside Carla's fine catalog of recordings. Recommended.

Floyd LeeFloyd Lee was a new name to me, and after reading the quotes from the great reviews his first CD earned, I approached Ain't Doin' Nothin' Wrong (Amogla Records), his second CD, with great anticipation. I was not disappointed. One of the reviews of the earlier CD said "Floyd's singing is real strong and gritty. This is certainly one of the best recent blues CDs." Another had it as one of the top ten recordings listened to in Blues Revue Magazine's Office. I am sure that "Ain't Doin' Nothin' Wrong" will get the same rave reviews. This is a fine CD of mainly original songs, with two by Jimmy Reed and one by Elmore James thrown in for good luck. The first track opens with some killer slide guitar, and a groove is laid down that carries from song to song. There are touches of John Lee Hooker's boogies throughout, with a good measure of Jimmy Reed thrown in, too. The second track, "In Trouble Again," sort of sets the tone for the rest of the album; it's fast becoming one of my favorite new blues tracks. The topical "Crack Alley" is another memorable track on this quite remarkable release. Growing up in the South and moving to Cleveland in 1947, Floyd sang in the church choir where his talents as a singer were recognized. The preacher thought so highly of Lee that he gave Floyd his first guitar (a Gibson T125 electric with one pick-up in the middle). Listening to Nat King Cole and later moving into Jimmy Reed material, Floyd made a name around town as a singer and guitar player. Word got around, eventually landing him some regular gigs with Jimmy Reed, sitting in for Eddie Taylor when he couldn't make it (Eddie was Jimmy Reed's main sideman). That's Floyd playing rhythm guitar on Reed's "Honest I Do." While living in Columbus, he played a gig opening for Wilson Pickett. Later Floyd was asked to play guitar on Pickett's hit "I Found A Love." Floyd moved to New York in the early '70s and eventually settled in Harlem. He worked for 27 years as the doorman at the Normandy (86th St & Riverside Drive). Retiring a few years back, he has begun his new career a self driven bluesman. His two CDs can be ordered at This CD is a real treat.

I'm JusVon (Parliament Records) sort of took me by surprise. As is stated on the CD's booklet, it is an album of neo-blues, neo-soul and neo-ballads, half of which were quite familiar to me, not by JusVon (whose real name I believe is Davon Johnson), but by Buddy Ace, the late great singer who had many releases on Duke and Evejim. "Root Doctor" and "She Ain't Givin' Up No Love" (Isley Brothers), "Let Me Do Something For You," "Think" and "Do It Together" (Jimmy McCracklin), "Keep It In The Family" and " Just Your Fool" (Leon Haywood), and "It's Time To Move On" (Ronnie Lovejoy) were all tracks that appeared on Ace's albums Don't Hurt No More and The Silver Fox, both on Evejim Records and two CDs well worth owning. The reason I was taken by surprise was because of the terrific vocals supplied by JusVon. He is a blues vocalist of first class stature, in addition to being a foremost drummer and topnotch songwriter. The eight other songs that make up this new release are all of a high order. With 16 songs and over 72 minutes of playing time, you certainly will get your money's worth. JusVon grew up in the City of Watts and began playing the drums at the age of three. He has played with the likes of Z.Z. Hill, Smokey Wilson, Lee Shot Williams, Artie White, Tyrone Davis and The Drifters, to name just a few, and has toured internationally with Otis Clay and Zora Young. We wish him the best with his solo career. You can purchase the CD from or call 1-800-463-7157.

The Best Of Barbara CarrI always felt that Barbara Carr was one of the premier artists on Ecko Records. She has contributed five strong releases over the last several years, and many of those recordings are on The Best Of Barbara Carr. Starting with her classic "Footprints On The Ceiling" (included here), to the outrageous Bone Me Like You Own Me (included here), on to the What A Woman Needs, Stroke It and The Best Woman, Carr 's releases all had memorable songs and singing that made even the less interesting tracks worthwhile. Alas, she has left Ecko, so this "Best Of" draws the best off those five albums and leaves us with a release that is a good starting place if you are unfamiliar with the body her work. Included on this 14 track CD is the song with the longest title in Ecko history, "If The Lord Keeps The Thought Of You Out Of My Head, I'll Keep Your Booty Out Of My Bed" and the equally long titled "Good Looks Can Get Him, But It Takes Good Lovin' To Keep Him Home." The raunchy "If You Can't Cut The Mustard (Don't Want You Licking Around The Jar)" is one of the best things she did, as is "Let A Real Woman Try," both included here. There are a few dance tunes "Bo Hawg Grind," "Hoochie Dance" and "I've Been Partying At The Hole In The Wall," which add a little diversity to this fine retrospective. One of the finest female singers on the soul circuit today. Be sure to pick up a copy of this release, and catch her live show if she comes to your town.

As discussed in the above review, Barbara Carr has left Ecko Records to record once again on her own label. The expectation level for On My Own (BarCar Records) was quite high when this release arrived, but I must admit I felt a bit cheated when I saw it. The first six tracks appeared on her 1995 Street Woman album, so we only get six new tracks here. But if you do not have that early release, this one will be a winner for you. "Not a Word," which she has recorded before, is a duet here with co-writer George Jackson. "Street Woman" is a strong tale of what happens to a woman when she gets let down by her man. The catchy "You've Been Doing Wrong For So Long" was originally done by Thelma Houston. A fine ballad, "Please No More," is one of the better new tracks, but the show stopper is "Leave That Fool Alone," with its spoken intro and Barbara giving advise to a woman who's been physically beaten and cheated on. Heavy stuff. "Whatcha Doing With The Money" changes the mood a bit, but it is the closing track, "You Take Away My Blues," that leaves us in better spirits as the CD ends. The new material sounds great and we are treated to real musicians here, something that was always lacking on the Ecko releases. Well, this one has piqued my curiosity and I will anxiously await her next release. I hope that it will include both real musicians and all new songs. Until then, I'll enjoy this one.

--- Alan Shutro

Hey GringoAre you looking for a little bit of everything to satisfy your insatiable music palate? Then consider I was There, an independent release from Hey Gringo. This five piece electric Australian act is self billed as an original retro, rootsy Rhythm & Blues band, the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Daryl Roberts. Daryl has been around in folk and blues bands since 1974, including a stint with legend Jimmy Witherspoon. Hey Gringo puts together some of Daryl's own material which he has performed live in various forms. On the disc Roberts performs keyboards, harmonica, mandolin, guitar, accordion and vocals. He is aptly assisted by Nicky Bomba (drums, percussion, vocals), Ross Hannaford (guitar), Paul Gadsby (bass, guitar, vocals) and David Williamson (sax). At barely 30 minutes, the nine-track, all-original disc clocks in well under an acceptable length by today’s standards. "Face Myself" is country rock with a fun and happy foot-stomping, catchy groove. On it, Daryl’s harp grabs the listener like an unwelcome visitor. His mandolin performance on "Soul" will inspire many to explore a stringed instrument other than the guitar. He then fills the gaps with his accordion and penetrates the crevices like oil sprayed onto a car. The modern sounding vocals on "Treat Me Mean" would be equally appealing to the alternative rock crowd, but the lyrics are down-home blues ... ‘...treat me like a peasant when I treat you like a Queen...' The saxophone’s brass flourish really makes this tune get down. "End Of The Road" is radio-friendly, on which the guitar strings are yanked and cranked with plenty of wah-wah pedal. They take a 90 minute action packed movie and compress it into a two and a half minute song on "Only Thing I Need." There are graphic descriptions of dinosaur and alligator attacks during this highly danceable organ groove. The keyboard is at the helm on the title track. The tune flashes back on a musical journey that begins in the Delta, matures into psychedelic rock and explodes into an arena rock fireball. Here, Roberts lets his piano rip on an album where solos are kept to a minimum. No, its not the blues and it has one of the strangest covers you will ever see, but it is earthy roots music, and its cosmic at that. For CDs and information contact: Daryl Roberts, 5 Rodney Court, Viewbank, Victoria 3084, Australia, Website:, Email:

bugs Beddow BandThe 2002 and 2003 Detroit Music Award winners for Best R&B Band return with another live chronicle. Smokin' Live (Great Lakes Music) from bugs Beddow Band was recorded August 30, 2002 at one of metro Detroit’s most fun nightspots, Memphis Smoke. The establishment features southern cuisine and is one of those places to see and be seen at. Unlike their 1997 live CD, this one has superior sound, thanks to the production of flamboyant guitarist/vocalist Duffy King. He captures the band’s powerhouse dynamics and non-stop partying via 70 minutes of 12 loud, high-energy covers. It's a cross-section of dance tunes, pop tunes and blues from the likes of John Hiatt, James Cotton, Van Morrison and Santana. As the disc progresses, you will find yourself turning up the volume and moving more and more body parts. At the core remain the accomplished and seasoned horns with bugs (trombone, flute, vocals) and James Morse (sax), in addition to mainstay Jim Pryor (drums, vocals). Bass playing Glenn Olds is the group’s newcomer having joined just weeks prior to this recording. "Diggin’ On James Brown" hits you where you live with an energetic sax solo. There is fuzzy and funky guitar on "Lowdown." On it, bugs’ flute goes techno-pop by producing sounds you’d expect from a synthesizer. Later, on "Ain’t Doin’ Too Bad," he uses his trombone to test the building’s seismic readiness by blowing notes that rumble. Then Duffy burns his strings to a red hot flame while being egged on by the pumping horns. Next, all the artists get a chance to solo on this blistering barn-burner. No one can sit still through "Domino," with its sexy and jazz inflicted sax. Here, Duffy plays quick hillbilly picking, then transitions his solo into incredibly fast fret-blazing rock guitar which releases a sonic boom. "I’m Ready" is a blues staple that doesn’t transform itself well into party central. There are others, namely "Don’t Change Horses" and "Riding With The King." The vibrant images of EC and BB riding in a black Cadillac on the music video networks are just too much for the latter to overcome. This band gives it all they got. They play for their audience and know what their audience wants. As such, the flow of the songs become predictable. Each contains a catchy rhythm, pulsing horns and ripping guitar. The band’s two previous releases mainly contained covers. This time around some originals would have been more than welcomed. Although four of the five members contribute on vocals, they vary greatly in capability. These modern day Blues Brothers are rooted in the blues and are rich in R&B. Not many acts incorporate flute and trombone. That is refreshing, but the non-stop covers do not allow the music to be taken to new places. If you are looking for down-home blues, you will be disappointed. If you are looking for an R&B celebration with super-charged brass and guitar, this is one party you won’t want to miss. For CDs, booking and info contact: bugs Beddow Band, PO Box 240411, Orchard Lake, MI 48324-0411, (248) 546-BUGS, Website:

--- Tim Holek

Randy McDonald - On The Wild SideOn The Wild Side (Heart & Soul Records), from Randy McDonald, is as delightfully eclectic and eccentric as the artist himself. This quirky CD from the regular bass player for the Tommy Castro Band crosses all kinds of musical boundaries on the 11 cuts found here. On The Wild Side opens with a funky, Tom Waits-ish visit down a back alley on "House Rent Party," before launching into a John Lee Hooker-style boogie, "Everywhere I Go," that features McDonald's muffled, distorted vocals over Kid Ramos' incessant, heavy slide guitar work. "Crawfishin'" takes the listener on a spirited romp through Southwestern Louisiana and Texas, with a nice blues guitar solo from Ramos, a seemingly out of place but effective trumpet solo from Sam "The Man" McDonald, and honkin' sax from Keith Crossan. McDonald veers seamlessly into a rockabilly thing with a cover of Bobby Charles' "Take It Easy Greasy," highlighted by another powerful sax solo from Crossan. The most interesting cut is McDonald's cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Out Of Work," given a light, easy calypso treatment. Following is another novelty-type number, an original mid-tempo narrative entitled "Yardsale." McDonald really takes it over the top with a wild, frenetic version of Bo Diddley's "Can't Judge A Book By The Cover" that continually threatens to run amok but stays along the edge throughout its six minute running time. McDonald's love for novelty songs comes out again on Harold Burrage's "You Eat Too Much," a stop-time, mid-tempo shuffle with a couple of good horn breaks. In case you've forgotten that McDonald knows how to rock, he closes the album with the swamp rocker "Teenage Letter," on which Tommy Castro sits in with a red hot guitar solo. If you're looking to venture outside a straight eight-bar blues vein, then you just might enjoy this walk On The Wild Side.

There are some overachieving albums in which the final product is greater than the sum of its parts. The Rockin' Highliners' Sputnik Café (Severn Records) is just the opposite. Singer Robert Tycholis has a strong voice, somewhat reminiscent of Omar Dykes from Omar & the Howlers, and all of the instrumentalists are capable players. But for some reason, this swamp-blues-rock'n'roll mix on Sputnik Café fails to capture the spark of which I'm certain this Canadian ensemble is capable of producing in live performances. Unfortunately, it appears that it's too late to see these guys in person, as the news on their web site indicates that The Rockin' Highliners have disbanded. In the meantime, I can't put my finger on why you shouldn't buy this disc ... but I also can't come up with any good reasons to do so.

One of the more consistently solidd recording artists on the scene today is West Texas bluesman Long John Hunter. The man knows his way around the studio. His latest, One Foot In Texas (Doc Blues), is another fine addition to Hunter's discography. He's joined in this session by his "East Texas blues brother," Tom "Blues Man" Hunter, in addition to some of Texas' better session musicians, including Double Trouble rhythm section Tommy Shannon (bass) and Chris Layton (drums), Nick Connolly (keyboards), Kaz Kazanoff (sax), Gary Primich (harmonica), and Derek O'Brien (guitar). Connolly is especially good on the ivories on the blues shuffle "One Foot It Texas." Hunter demonstrates his vocal range on the blues number "Midnight Stroll." The strongest cut is the slow blues "Roll Over & Cover My Head," six minutes jam packed with nice meandering guitar runs. Another slow tune, "I Give You All My Money," is also a keeper, with nice sax accompaniment. The CD ends with 11 minutes of the Hunter brothers reminiscing about their younger years while laying down some basic guitar riffs. Heck, there's not a bad cut on One Foot In Texas. Be sure to track this one down, because it's a keeper.

The only connection to the blues on James Cohen's High Side of Lowdown is that this all-instrumental guitar album was released by Canadian blues label NorthernBlues Music. But just as NorthernBlues president Fred Litwin couldn't resist putting this one out, all Blues Bytes readers would be well-advised to take a listen to this disc --- the music within it is just plain exhilarating. Even the story is great --- Cohen, a jeweler in Canada, goes to Venezuela on a gem-buying trip, where he encounters a flamenco guitarist at a local tapas bar. Cohen winds up jamming with the man, and the moment inspires him to start seriously studying flamenco music. This reviewer is certainly not qualified to pass serious judgment on this style of music, but listening to it should made me feel good. I especially liked the song "Tiny Monkeys," not just for the unique title but also for Cohen's nimble work on the strings plus Richard Bell's tasteful piano accompaniment. The hottest guitar work can be heard on "Fortune's Fool," on which Cohen's fingers just plain fly across the guitar strings. If you're in the mood to venture away from the blues and want to put a little zest into your life, then take a listen to High Side of Lowdown. You'll love it!

--- Bill Mitchell

Dave McKenzie's got a good track record. Maria Muldaur and some people who are famous in Nashville have covered his songs. He worked with a lot of big name blues performers before they died. Most significant, despite a press kit so cocky that one initially imagines him thinking he's the first guy to ever record with just guitar and vocals, the liner notes for his new release, Solo (Hey Baby! Records), honestly point out his influences and inspirations. "'Two Drags' was originally a Johnny Shines song, of which I could only remember the very first line so I made up the rest," is a typical explanation culled from his narrative page. Said influences and inspirations are somewhat obscure, making it clear that this skinny, bespectacled white guy has done his homework on the blues and isn't just another Aykroyd/Belushi wannabe. Some people practice guitar until their fingers bleed, daily, incessantly, driving everyone around them crazy, before they consider themselves ready for the bandstand or the studio. MacKenzie just figures out how to play the songs he writes and the songs he likes, an attitude without which we'd never get any music, because rehearsal doesn't get songs written. Of course, the flip side to that is that his playing is sloppy as hell, which is okay, because once you've successfully made the Nashville entertainment scene your living room by creating songs and putting them across effectively, sloppiness isn't a crucial factor. He likes to tell people how they should behave and think and how the world should be run, which might raise a few listener hackles, particularly on "She Ain't No Southern Girl" and "If Jesus Comes Back." For every person annoyed by this part of McKenzie's personality, however, there will be another grateful for his perspective. Other tunes among the 15 here hammer at the exaggeration and humor that lure so many players and listeners to the blues. In this category, we find, most evidently "Big Ol' Girls" and "Rats in My Bedroom." The overall tone of Solo is one of front porch warmth. It is a good source for material for professional performers and a good source of inspiration for budding players.

At the far left side of the bell curve of jazz, there has always been a love/hate conflict between the genre and songs themselves. The great trendsetters of jazz have teetered between wringing every bit of message and music out of popular compositions and just racing to see who on the bandstand can get the greatest distance from a composition's melody and form the fastest. Django Reinhardt was certainly a great trendsetter of jazz, and 1910-1953 (Collectables Records) is full of that love/hate conflict. At times, Reinhardt is clearly the example later followed by Freddy Green, Charlie Christian and Barney Kessel. At other times, sometimes even in the same songs, he is King of Brats, a disturbance and distraction to a band trying to deliver simple encouragements to dance and romance. Conflict existed in his time, too, concerning public and critical reception of his music. He was labeled everything from the most original guitarist in European jazz to a slavish Eddie Lang impersonator. Then and now, however, whatever one's reaction to his taste, his technique and virtuosity were and are unimpeachable. There has never been any doubt that he expanded the horizons of guitar playing. This eight-song collection is a fine representation of his typical work rather than an attempt to represent his best work. That might best be found on live Paris gig recordings he made with Stephane Grappelli and Larry Adler in the late '30s.

--- Arthur Shuey

A blues showman in the tradition of Aaron "T-Bone" Walker, multi-instrumentalist Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown regales a German club crowd on the DVD In Concert (In-Akustik/MVD) with guitar and fiddle in the 10-song set. The 1995 concert is an entertaining example of Brown's Texas blues fusions style, a mix of blues, country, R&B, Cajun and some jazz. Brown rose to prominence in the post-War blues scene and has 50 years of experience to draw on in the excellent, varied performance that includes "Take the A-Train," "Long Way Home" and "Mojo Workin'."

In the 1950s, CBC's Toronto studios were a safe haven for black performers seeking to promote their art away from the segregated United States. Black jazz, R&B and pop stars appeared in variety shows produced there. The DVD That Old Black Magic (Morningstar Entertainment/MVD) culls from high-quality kinescopes compiled as part of the studio's 50th anniversary. Thanks to the CBC Archives Department, we now get taken back to that golden era for a short narrated biography and performances from a playfully nimble Cab Calloway ("Minnie the Moocher"), Dinah Washington singing the Bessie Smith murder ballad "Send Me to the 'Lectric Chair," smooth Billy Eckstine ("September Song") and opera star Marion Anderson. Also featured are Ella Fitzgerald and Della Reese. Sampled from variety shows are appearances by Sammy Davis, Jr. and Nat King Cole. The main star is Duke Ellington. We get five songs from Ellington as he opens and closes this excellent DVD.

Jubilee (NorthernBlues) brings together two of Canada's best modern blues guitarists: Harry Manx on the mohan-veena Indian guitar and lap-slide guitar along with journeyman session guitarist Kevin Breit. After an impromptu jam with Breit's Folk Alarm in 2001, Manx discovered he and Breit made an exquisite sonic alloy. Luckily for us, they got into the studio mere months later, resulting in this exquisite album. Their styles are a union of opposites. Manx has an atmospheric, detached quality touched by Indian music. His music has the gift of flight. From Breit we are taken down, inside and into a world of whiskey in a Mason jar and down home blues. Breit also delivers exquisite mandolin on this album. In the blended result it is Manx's style, unexpectedly, that comes through the most. Jubilee is a laid-back album that gently rolls forward from track to track like drifting downriver on a warm, sunny day.

Producer Brian Brinkerhoff (Guitar Shorty, Kool & the Gang, Hey Bo Diddley: A Tribute!) had the great idea to put together contemporary talent with funk-jazz patriarchs for One Nation Under a Re-Groove (Magnatude) by The Clinton Administration, an instrumental funk jam band exploration of the music of George Clinton made famous through Parliament and Funkadelic. Legendary blues-soul-R&B-jazz guitarist Phil Upchurch, active since the 1950s, is the arranger here and seems to be the de facto, if casual, music director of the project. Also on board was Melvin Gibbs (Harriet Tubman, Sonny Sharrock, Rollins Band) as bassist for the project. He said, "When playing funk there is something the old guys have and especially when you are dealing with drummers there is a very specific thing in dealing with the music that the young drummers cannot reproduce. It goes to the whole thing of … the way the cats walked back then, all of that. You know, it is different know… If you go into the 'hood and watch the way the cats walk, you already know what their music is going to sound like." With Clyde Stubblefield (James Brown, Bootsy Collins), Melvin felt the The Clinton Administration had "pretty much the P-Funk drummer of all time." Clyde, the one you hear on James Brown's monster hits of the 1960s, is the "World's Most Sampled Drummer." That being said, Clyde needed no samples brought in for this project, as he points out, "Nothing is mechanical. Everything is human beings, everything is nature. We did it, we put it that way, we didn't use no electric drums, nothing like that… People should take notice to that. Don't give up on the human being because that it is where it came from." Though this collaboration was the first time most of these musicians jammed together, the group worked together at once. Says Clyde; "It locked right in instantly … we knew each other when we saw each other. When we sat down to play, we knew each other. We went right to work. We knew what we were supposed to do… Everybody was so fabulous." Gibbs further recalls about the session of strangers, "It reminded me of the Chuck Rainey records of the period. You have these really great cats… On a certain level, it was a reason to get these guys in a room together to make this music. You have two ways of using music, where music is the point or where music is the vehicle for the playing like with jazz musicians. This record was like both at the same time… The music was a vehicle to get musicians together that maybe would not have had a reason to otherwise." As a journeyman session man, Melvin Gibbs explains exactly how uncommon this approach is today. "It is usual and unusual… What is unusual is the fact that the music gets out… There are a lot of people sitting on a lot of tapes… But what is happening now is that we are in a time and place where people have deciphered much more how to get their music out." Thank you, Magna Carta for using your Magnatude jam/funk/fusion band imprint for putting this record out. Fans of jam band music are expectedly fans of Parliament/Funkadelic and this contemporary jam album is an exquisite union talented exploration and solid material.

--- Thomas Schulte

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